Massive age fraud in the Iraqi youth team
By Hassanin Mubarak
The Iraqi youth team, an Under 20s team, will play in the World Youth Cup in Turkey this month. The world needs to understand the extent and how pandemic the debilitating practice of age fraud is prevalent in today’s Iraqi youth team and the youth system, as it has been from its inception in the mid-70s.
The current Iraqi captain and goalkeeper was called into the Olympic team (U-23 level) in 2005!!! Yes, the goalkeeper Mohammed Hamed Farhan, born on January 24, 1993 was selected by the Olympic coach Yahya Alwan at the age of just 12!!!
Can anyone believe a player at the age of 12, and a goalkeeper for that fact, would be even considered for selection for an Under 23 side?
There has also been another extraordinary claim that one of the squad members, who will represent Iraq in Turkey this month, was somehow born in 1993, but whose own biological father had passed away in 1990!!!
Then there is the case of AFC Young Player of the Year, forward Mohanad Abdul-Rahim, or Mohanad Abdul-Rahman, who sometime in 2011 changed his second name (which in Iraq, would be the name of his father) from Abdul-Rahman to Abdul-Rahim. Why was this? Maybe it was because trials for the youth team had begun at the same time. He made the squad for the new team for players born in 1992 and 1993.
The name of Mohanad Abdul-Rahman was removed from Al-Karkh’s team roster and a new name Mohanad Abdul-Rahim was added. They are the same person, as the match reports and photos from league matches played by Al-Karkh in 2009-2010 and 2010-2011 will testify. You should remember that this player, is the current AFC Young Player of the Year.
In Iraq, the ‘youth team’ is only a name, like the Chicago Bulls. They are no more a youth team, than the Chicago basketball team are bulls. The team itself is a complete fraud.
The team of bribes, middlemen and forged passports
Iraq’s 2000 Asian U-20 Youth Championship winning team is considered one of the best team’s the country has ever produced. The team featured a host of players that are mainstays in the current national side including Nour Sabri, Basim Abbas and Nashat Akram. They went onto achieve a fourth place finish at the Athens Olympics and won the 2007 Asian Cup.
However over the years it has become apparent that majority of the youth team of 2000 were over the age limit even the two youngest members of the squad, goalkeeper Nour Sabri and Nashat Akram, then supposedly 16 years of age, were barely eligible to play in the tournament. At the 2001 FIFA World U-20 Youth Championship, the team beat Canada 3-0 in the first game and the Canadians were suspicious of the ages of the Iraqi players, with most of their players having been born on July 1.
Nour the goalkeeper was 20 when he played for the youth team and so was Nashat. Defender Jassim Mohammed Ghulam like many of the team including first team keeper Ahmed Ali Jabur was born in 1979 along with the captain Hassan Turki. Basim Abbas, who was shaving his balding head even way back then, may have been even older.
Age fraud in the Iraqi youth systems has been a problem from the early beginning, when in 1975, the first U-19s team was sent to Kuwait with the bulk of the squad in their mid-20s and it has continued since. The Iraqi public took great pride in defeating Iran on their home turf in 1977, with a last minute back-header from Hussein Saeed, though most of those players were overage, as were many of the Iranians, at a time when age fraud was rife in the Asian youth football.
For a long time it was believed that Saddam’s son Uday started the trend. In 1988 when he was president of the FA, Uday handed officials from Iraq FA passports to overage players so they could represent the youth team. Iraq qualified for the finals and won the competition and went onto play in the World Youth Championship. They were only found out when one of the players, goalkeeper Emad Hashim, who had been registered to play in the Olympics and the World Youth Championship with two different dates of births. FIFA asked for an explanation and the FA were unable to come up with a suitable answer and were banned from youth tournaments. To note the captain of the team was born in 1965, making him 24 years of age.
It continues to this day with the clear knowledge of FA officials and coaches. Olympic player Muthanna Khalid was banned from playing for the Olympic side after he had registered with the AFC to represent the Under 17s in 2002, stating his DOB as 1986. His passport mentioned 1989. Hamadi Ahmed was dropped by Olympic coach Nadhim Shaker after he did not want to see the FA penalised for including an overage player. The coach noted that the FA had applied for a visa for the player to take part in the 2010 WAFF Championship, with the player’s passport noting the year of birth as 1983, thus making him ineligible to play for the Olympic (Under-23) team. His current passport states 1989 as his year of birth.
Most recently in September 2012 members of the Iraq youth team were dropped when travelling to a friendly tournament in Amman when security authorities at Baghdad International Airport held nine members of the squad for carrying forged passports. They specifically noted that the players had changed the years of birth on their passports.
Age fraud has cost Iraq natural progression and a World Cup place
The insistence of keeping with the same players had detrimental to the progression of the national team, coaches come and go but the same players continue to turn out for the team. After the 2007 Asian Cup win in Jakarta the team has had little success. It was dumped out of the 2008 World Cup by the mighty Qatar in Dubai, did their best impression of lost sheep at the 2009 Gulf Cup and were a complete embarrassment at the 2009 Confederations Cup in South Africa, with their only redemption being an honourable 1-0 defeat to Spain. After managing a point against the hosts, with cautious defensive tactics that would have made catenaccio seemed like an well-developed version of tika-taka they were nearly beaten by New Zealand, with one player on the Iraqi team stating that the change of tactics from a defensive style to a more attacking one had been a cause of failing to beat the New Zealanders.
The players are now one of the longest serving in the history of the national side however it is not their skill that is keeping them in the side or the squad. The usual suspects manage to get picked again and again but ask yourself how could any player, who has not played for any club or managed to get to perform at any level that would not merit a place in a shaabiya team get named in every national squad. Salih Sadir, one of the heros of the 2004 Olympic and 2007 Asian Cup winning team is a prime example. In 2008, when Egil Olsen was coach of the team, he noted to the FA that he did not need the slow and overweight playmaker in his squad. Former FA president Hussein Saeed and Younis Mahmoud even tried to get involved. Olsen despite not wanting the player and not even calling him up, Salih bizarrely arrived to train with the rest of the squad.
Many of these players were without clubs at the start of Wolfgang Sidka’s reign in 2010, he had a host players that had not played club football for months so how were they able to named in the squad. The answer is the FA and money. These players have amassed great wealth after many of them turned ‘professional’ in 2003 to play for rich clubs in the Gulf, this was noted by Olsen’s assistant Otto Ulseth at a training camp in Dubai, with the professionals earning thousands of dollars a month having a night out in the city while the home based players on a paltry $200 a month stayed in their hotels. The players have known to pay for hotel rooms and plane tickets for the FA and bonuses for the team.
Some claim that FA official and Arbil Sports Club board member Abdul-Khaliq Masoud tells players that if they sign for the club, they would get into the national side. Many players have signed for the Yellow Citadel and have miraculously been named in the national side shortly after.
There was evidence of this when Hulgard Mulla Mohammed and Ammar Abdul-Hussein, an Olympic player from Basra signed this summer, arrived at the national team’s hotel in Doha even though they had not been selected by Zico. They flew on the same flight as the other Arbil players, and Al-Mulla but Zico stated he had not called-up the players and they would not be taking part in the training session. Al-Mullah huffed and puffed on his cigar, after not getting his way called Zico dishonest in a national sports paper and the two players returned to Arbil.
Al-Mulla is a man that usually gets his own way. The moustachioed official has been an influential member of the FA since 2003, and has had his hand on the treasury for most of it. He flies first class around the world, while during the recent World Cup qualifier with Australia in Doha, two of his sons got the VIP treatment in Qatar, and resided with the rest of the Iraqi squad at the team hotel at the FA’s expense.
Al-Mullah sat on the bench at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens, taking the place of the team’s doctor and at the 2007 Gulf Cup, he turned to the coach Akram Salman and ‘advised’ him to put on substitute Emad Mohammed. This is a man that according to himself was a former footballer in the city of Arbil, that had no coaching experience at any level demanding the coach of the national team to make a change to the side.
For football in Iraq to progress, changes need to be made, the practice of the current FA and the likes of Mohammed Hamed and Mohanad Abdul-Rahim (or Abdul-Rahman) causes harm to Iraq’s football at both national and international level.